Snow’n’Rail 2015-16

Snow'n'Rail 2015-16
The Snow’n’Rail schedule for the Winter Sports season 2015-2016 is now available. This is the wonderful scheme run by Swiss Railways that provides a 20% discount on the combined lift pass and public transport connections for most of the leading resorts in Switzerland. This is a unique offering – the Austrian Railways run a similar scheme, although nowhere near as extensive.

The offers are now available online (in English, French, German and Italian), and in a brochure available free from the booking offices of most Swiss Railway Stations. The brochures are available in German, French and Italian depending on the language of the locality in which the stations are situated, but only the German version comprehensively covers all the resorts in the scheme.

There is not much change from last year. Most prices have stayed the same. For example an adult day trip to Zermatt from Basel if you are in possession of a Half-Tax Card is still SFr 166.40. A comparable offering is SFr 75.40 for Klewenalp, again the same as last season.

The resort coverage has changed slightly – Vals is now included.

However the most glaring omission is the Portes du Soleil. This massive ski area was one of the most impressive destinations under the Snow’n’Rail scheme, but it looks like they couldn’t come to an agreement with Swiss Railways for this season. Hopefully they will be back for the next one.

What looks like a new resort on the list, Chäserrugg, is simply a rebranded name for what has been referred to in previous years as Toggenburg or Obertoggenburg and covers the charming, linked resorts of Alt St. Johann and Underwasser. Included in the lift pass are the slopes around Wildhaus, but it appears that the routing of the offer to Wildhaus via Buchs is no longer available at a discount.

Some resorts can be accessed by train alone, others you need either a scheduled bus service or use of a linked ski bus. Details are all listed at the resort reports at the Swiss Winter Sports web site, and I can vouch for the rourting information as I have used the scheme for every resort myself!

Resorts covered by the scheme are as follows:
In Northern Switzerland: Braunwald, Chäserrugg and Pizol.
In Graubünden: Arosa Lenzerheide, Brigels, Davos Klosters, Disentis 3000, Engadin St. Moritz, Flims Laax Falera, Motta Naluns (Scuol), Splügen and Vals 3000.
In the Bernese Oberland: Adelboden-Lenk, Gstaad Mountain Rides, Jungfrau Ski Region and Meiringen-Hasliberg.
In Ticino only Airolo.
Several resorts are included in the category Alpes Vaudoises, including Villars, Les Diablerets and Leysin.
In Valais: 4 Vallées/Mt-Fort, Aletsch Arena, Blatten-Belalp, Crans-Montana, Grächen, Lauchernalp/Lötschental, Leukerbad, Visp Area, Saas-Fee/Saastal and Zermatt & Cervinia.
In Central Switzerland: Engelberg-Titlis, Klewenalp-Stockhütte, Melchsee-Frutt, Andermatt-Sedrun, Sörenberg, Sattel-Hochstuckli and Stoos.

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FIS World Championship Vail / Beaver Creek

The FIS World Championship in Vail and Beaver Creek is about halfway through, and it has been a fascinating competition, with wonderful conditions.
beaver Creek Podium
In the Ladies SuperG, Austrian Anna Fenninger held off Tina Maze and local favourite, Lindsay Vonn. Maze, however, came off top in the Downhill, edging out Fenninger and Switzerland’s Lara Gut, fresh from her win in St Moritz.

Meanwhile the Mens competition has looked kindly on the Swiss, with a Gold for Patrick Keung and a Bronze for Beat Feuz, with America’s Travis Ganong sandwiched between them. The Super G saw Hannes Reichelt of Austria on the podium with Gold, followed by Canada’s Dustin Cook and France’s Adrien Theaux. Marcel Hersher rounded out a good few days for the Austrians, taking the Combined Gold, whilst the sensational winner at Kitzbühel, Kjetil Lansrud, came in second with Ted Ligerty third.

The fractions of a second difference in medal positions are recorded by Longines, the Swiss watch maker based in St Imier since 1832. The company has a long association with skiing, stretching back to ski trials in Chamonix in 1933, and it has been official partner and timekeeper for the FIS since 2006. The relationship was re-inforced when Longines took on the same role for the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in Vail and Beaver Creek, as they had for previous World Championships. To commemorate the occasion they have launched a new chronograph, the alluring Conquest 1-100th Alpine Skiing. One for my wish list for sure, and one I will be looking forward to checking out at Baselworld, the watch fair in Switzerland that takes place next month. In addition, the equally alluring and talented Mikaela Shiffrin has been announced as Longines Ambassador of Elegance.

Mikaela Shiffrin wins in Zagreb 2015
Mikaela Shiffrin wins in Zagreb (c) Longines 2015

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Break in Braunwald

City NightlineI had to go down to Switzerland for some business and thought I would take in a day’s skiing, even though the weather didn’t look good and I had a cold. The trip was painless and it made a nice break despite my heavy head. I took a bed on the excellent City Nightline on Thursday night from Utrecht to Basel for around fifty euros and was in Basel before 7am. If it wasn’t for the business, I could easily have been on the slopes somewhere like Wengen within a couple more hours.
Linthal ValleyThe next morning I got up early and took a train across to Zurich where I bought a Snow’n’Rail combined ticket at SFR 60. Despite all the talk of the cost of the Swiss Franc, somehow sixty francs for a scenic trip up the Linthal valley and a day in one of the most pleasant small, car-free resorts seems to me good value. Braunwald is not a huge resort, but it does have a good range of skiing as well as plenty for non-skiers to do – indeed, despite it being a Saturday, the slopes were almost empty and there seemed to be more tobogganists and winter walkers below the Eggstöcke than skiers and snowboarders. It has struck me before how unusual a resort so easy to get to from Zurich is so quiet at weekends, with most weekend warriors preferring to go to Hoch-Ybrig or Flumserberg. The trip really is a doddle, with the funicular railway right in the Linthalbahn Braunwald railway station. A quirky feature of Braunwald is the configuration of gondolas used in the resort, with one cableway operating them in pairs, another in quads and a final one alternating with chairlifts on the same cable.
Lara Gut and Anna Fenninger come in 1st and 2nd in St Moritz
The weather wasn’t great so I had a leisurely day on the slopes. I later saw replays of Lara Gut winning in St Moritz, but the self-service restaurant at Grotzenbüel put up a big screen to let us watch the racing live at Kitzbühel on the shortened Streif course off the Hahnenkamm.
Gondolas in Braunwald
After a pleasant day on the slopes, a leisurely train journey back down the valley and a meal at Zurich Station’s NordSee fish restaurant it was time to get on the sleeper back to the Netherlands in the company of two charming Chinese ladies. The fare was cheaper than from Basel bizarrely, some 44 euros.

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Christmas Ski Conditions

I reported last week on the English Show that the warm weather and dry conditions were hitting the ability of resorts to make a decent base, and that even a cold snap in mid-December would be followed by unseasonably warm weather. A week later, my prognosis seems to have been borne out, and even Courchevel in France has cancelled events because of poor snow conditions. My advice remains “go high”. You can find which resorts have the highest runs at the Swiss Winter Sports and Snow and Rail websites – on the resort finders you can click on the columns to sequence the tables by any field. High resorts like Zermatt and Verbier, for example, benefit from high glaciers and villages above the ski line, so you can be sure you can ski all the way back into the village. Freezing levels seem to be hovering around 1500m, so any runs above that altitude looks fine, although the snow forecast for the next couple of days comes with warm weather so the snow may turn to precipitation on even some middle stations. The temperature then dips a little and gives way to a period of sunny weather over Christmas where you can be sure the resorts will desperately be churning out the artificial snow on runs where they can establish a base. The good news, or bad news if you plan to ski over the New Year, is that the weather will change after Boxing Day, with blizzards expected by New Year’s Eve and, although the temperatures will still be a little on the high side, this should ensure good snow cover right down to the high valleys into January.

Austria has some glaciers but on the whole the resorts and runs are low, and the country has suffered from too little or not enough snow, with temperatures too mild to use snow-making machines. Italy has fared a little better, and I have had good reports from Cervinia. France should be OK if you go to somewhere high like Tignes.

It is a shame for many resorts, as some visitors will surely cancel plans to ski or snowboard. There seems to have been something of a resurgence too, with most resorts reporting higher levels of planned hotel occupancy over Christmas than last year, especially in Switzerland.

Ski Pizol
I’m spending Christmas in Bad Ragaz for Pizol. The valley run to Wangs probably won’t be open or much fun if it is, but since I am on the other side of the mountain, that is no great loss. There is also an easy backcountry run from the top of Pizol you can walk up to without skins, although you will need to carry your skis or board beyond the last lift. I also plan to spend a few days in Chur which has easy access to some of the best resorts in Graubünden ahead of the New Year – plenty of altitude nearby in resorts like Flims/Laax.

Many pages at my web site have webcams so you can check out the snow conditions for yourself. If they don’t follow the links to the resort web sites in case they have any other web cams set up.

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